Cam Thurlow is a restaurant professional, the loves of his life being his girlfriend, cooking and food, Shihad and beer. We clicked instantly; about food, dating and spaghetti on toast. We ventured to the CBD on a Monday for my first beef burger of the competition, having a conversation filled dinner for two at Capri on Featherston St. If the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, I’m pretty sure the way to mine is a little bit of effort and Mumm Champagne.
I was hired by Cam’s girlfriend a number of years ago, and proceeded to spend a year of my life pretty much within the walls of that restaurant and bar. I went back twice just to re-dip my toe into the pool of waitressing. I’d heard later rumours that he only hired brunettes; I was too young to care. In fact, I was flattered. What came with working there was an ethos in service I was born to embrace, as well as an instant and awesome group of colleagues-turned-friends. Unexpectedly large Tuesday night post-work staff beers often meant I was late for law lectures; the restaurant booths I spent more time in than my lounge. I learned food, and service and the beauty of Syrah. The former head chef is now at the helm of Capri, so after wooing me (successfully) with Mumm champagne, Cam and I ditched his girlfriend at our pre-date-drink, for a slow cooked scotch fillet with aged cheddar, homemade barbecue sauce, salad, and shoestring fries.
The decor feels ever so slightly overdone on the gareishness, but notwithstanding that Capri has both a relaxed and welcoming feel to it, as well as plenty of potential. It’s a difficult end of town for a Monday night dinner service, but there was a bustling group behind us and the service was friendly and swift.
He’d done his research. He had questions at the ready. He took control of the wine ordering and spoke with a dreamy confidence that comes with being that deliciously attractive age; full of experience, stories and flattery and jokes. He turned on the charm and the conversation was stimulating. We discussed relationships, dating culture, love and exit-strategy.
And we discussed burgers. What constitutes a burger, according to Cam, is the presence of a round bun and a lid. Some burgers masquerade as sandwiches: no bun? No burger. Others masquerade as open sandwiches: Lid off? No burger! This beef and barbecue beauty had a round bun, a requisite feature, but he rated this one a 7.5/10 lamenting a higher score if only they’d put the lid on it. The lid, and the firey yet sweet homemade barbecue sauce, which also sat on the side. It wasn’t pick-up-with-your-hands material, but that slow cooked scotch fillet, with that crackingly melted aged cheddar on top, and with an absorbent yet soft enough bun, was just delicious. Condiment queen (me) was similarly impressed with the aioli. And I avoided as many shoestring fries as possible!
Cam spun yarns about his days as a cocky young bartender in London, and all the ladies who fell for his charms way back then. He told the one about the date to the hip Jamaican restaurant that looked like a shack, and this and other such stories about his success with English girls who weren’t put off by such efforts had me in hysterics.
We talked food. Beautiful food. Cooking it, eating it, the service one gets when dining out on it. I was woozy on the topic, although that might have been the “big f-off red” we guzzled; a Waiheke Syrah that handled the burger and the barbecue sauce in ways I could only have dreamed of. And on the topic of white bread specifically, it’s only apparently three ways acceptable: enveloping a whitebait fritter, as toast covered in marmite, or with spaghetti from a tin (parmesan optional).
We kept laughing all the way up Featherston Street and I felt lucky to have had the ear of someone I admire for an entire evening. We agreed New Zealand needs a culture of dating - of sharing these interesting, engaging and fun memorable moments - without worrying about whether you’ll end up barefoot and pregnant at the kitchen sink with that person one day. And whether such moments last an evening, a couple of days, or a couple of months, we shouldn’t look at them as failures when they end, but enjoy them for what they are. Inspirational (and champagne fuelled) musings for a Monday.
He lured me back to one of his bars for a nightcap, and one whiskey down I was kissed on the cheek, had the door held open for me and wished a good night - and it most certainly had been.
The vital stats:
The man has spoken - 7.5/10 for the burger (because of his rules around bun lid placement) and 8.5/10 for the date because it didn’t quite end in a pash.
Thanks to the team at Capri for hosting us for date #5 and thanks to Cam’s other half Kirsten for both hiring me and lending me her boyfriend for the night x